We took a hiatus in our Summer Teaching Series this past weekend, but we’ll return to studying through 1 John this Sunday. If you’ve missed a week, go to the SCC Sermon Archive or our YouTube Channel and you can listen to one of the first five sermons. Also, take the time to read through the book as we are studying it. You will benefit from studying on your own as well as listening to sermons through the text.
This weekend is Memorial Day Weekend and it’s the unofficial beginning of the Summer Season. After Memorial Day, school will soon be out, vacations will be taken; we’ll hit the beach, the pool, and the park. We’ll squeeze what we can out of the outdoors while its warm! As our schedules have a way of changing frequently and becoming very busy in the summer, it’s crucial that we continue to abide in Jesus throughout this season. We want to get to September and be able to look back upon the Summer and see how God has worked in our hearts and lives. We want to see our relationships, our beliefs, and our way of living more closely resemble God’s will for us.
With this in mind, our 2013 Summer Teaching Series here at SCC will be entitled: Simple Relationships, Deep Belief, and Authentic Living: a study through The First Epistle of John. This study begins this Sunday, so invite a friend and bring your Bible and we’ll see how God is going to shape us this Summer as we seek to know him and obey him.
Jesus points us to the cross to gain proper perspective of greatness. He lays out the path to greatness before us in terms of humility and service. He also teaches that greatness is diverse, being found in different places and in different people. But there is something that hinders us from becoming great. Something that corrupts our desire to be great in God’s eyes and makes us desire to be great in our own eyes. The obstacle to greatness demands a serious response, and Jesus describes this response in Mark 9:42-50.
Here we have strong and confusing words from Jesus. I think it’s best to understand this passage as a parable in the context of Jesus teaching his disciples about greatness. Of course Jesus doesn’t literally mean that we are to maim ourselves. This would go against so much of what he teaches elsewhere about the role of the heart rather than mere external adherence to religious standards. Jesus teaches here that following him means forsaking this world’s understanding of what is great, and also forsaking the things that prevent us from living like people who belong in the Kingdom. In verse 42, Jesus has strong words for someone who would lead children or those who are easily influenced into sin. This passage builds on the previous verses in the overall context of Mark 9:30-50. Those who work in Jesus’ name will have their reward, but if they falsely proclaim Jesus and lead people into sin, their judgment awaits them.
When we consider some of the most horrifying things that we hear about on the news, verses like this give us confidence in the justice of God. But very quickly, Jesus moves to individual application in verses 43 and following. His instruction is that his followers would take serious action regarding our sin. Sin will hinder us from becoming great in the Kingdom of God. Sin hinders us because sin is regarding ourselves not just as important, but as the most important person. So, Jesus gives this parable on how his followers are to purify themselves. Some things must be destroyed so that the more important things can be preserved. This is how salt fits into the context. Salt played an important part in the preservation of food in our world until only recent history. Jesus is saying that purification and preservation are required to enter the Kingdom of God. Drastic measures should be taken to remove the obstacle of sin in our lives so that we might be pure and holy citizens of God’s Kingdom.
Our main obstacle to becoming truly great is our own sinfulness. This applies to those who have already risen to status in life and it applies to those who have very little status in this life. Our own sinfulness twists our desire for greatness and makes it self-centered not others-centered. Our sinfulness causes us to desire wealth, fame, influence for our own pleasure rather than to leverage for the weak, innocent, and downcast. For some, it causes us to avoid becoming great and instead becoming lazy. For others, it causes us to strive for a greatness at all costs leaving chaos in our wake.
The worst part about it is there is nothing we can do to overcome our sinfulness, we need someone to help us out of it. We can’t become great in the Kingdom of God without dealing with our sin and we can’t deal with our sin alone. This is why Jesus has come. His purpose was not to make his followers great in this world, but in the world to come. He subverts the world’s understanding of become great, what someone who is great does, and what hinders greatness. Our sin calls for a serious response. God responded to it by sending his son to pay the penalty for it. God calls us to respond to our sin with repentance. Rather than becoming great, our sin will destroy us, but God makes a way for us to be preserved. Though he is the great King of heaven and earth he humbled himself and went to the cross. He was destroyed for our sin and by our sin, in our place, so that we could be preserved and have life in God’s eternal Kingdom.
God calls us today to believe in this, to embrace what he has done for us, and to align our lives in repentance with him. We will only achieve greatness properly when we understand it in terms of the Gospel: A Gospel-Centered Greatness. We all need to consider who Jesus is and what he has done and how we have responded in our hearts and in our actions. He is the Great King, and he makes a way for us to be great in his Kingdom by believing that he has come and aligning our lives accordingly.
The disciples have witnessed this whole scene and naturally they wonder why they were unable to heal the boy. So they ask Jesus about it in Mark 9:28-29. After the disciples’ failure, they see how this father responds to Jesus in faith, and they wonder why they couldn’t perform the miracle. So Jesus gives them a lesson in discipleship. He teaches them that if they are going to do what he has called them to do, they have to pray. There are going to be times when they can’t just coast. There are going to be times when they are going to have to fall on their face before God. There are going to be obstacles before them that they won’t be able to overcome unless they pray. He shows them that their failure to pray is failure to exercise faith. Prayer is the action brought about by faith. A person who practices faith in Jesus prays. It is a demonstration of dependence upon God rather than ourselves. The reason they failed to perform the work of healing the boy is found in their prayerlessness and faithlessness, not in Jesus’ power. Jesus’ followers will fail, but he won’t. Jesus was willing and able to heal the boy, but when his disciples attempted it in their own power, without relying on God, they failed. If we are going to be involved in the work God is doing in our lives, our church, our homes, our community, and our world, one essential way we involve ourselves is through prayer. If we fail to pray, we fail.
There is a great book called “the Autobiography of George Muller”. He entered into ministry in a round-about way and pastored a small church in England. He was moved to start an orphanage that had only a handful of children. By the end of his life, he oversaw the care of over 1000 orphans. Many times in his morning prayers he would ask God for the food or the rent that was needed that day, and as he rose from praying, a knock would come at the door and a person would be there to provide the need. He would pray for a precise amount of money to pay the rent, or for that day’s food for the children, and it was provided over and over. He put himself in a position where God had to come through for him and over and over he did. He didn’t strategize or market or fundraise or network. He prayed and God moved. If you struggle to trust God with your needs pick up this book. Reading it will encourage you greatly.
Everyone recommends prayer, but few devote themselves to prayer. MC Hammer sang, “You’ve got to pray just to make it today.” Even Justin Bieber has a song called “Pray“. But, we don’t take time to pray because we don’t believe that God would move if we asked him. We don’t pray because we don’t believe it works. So, we work harder, or we worry and we place everything on our own shoulders which cannot bear the weight. We rush quickly to worrying, and stressing, and complaining, and griping, but when it comes to prayer all we say is, “All we can do now is pray”. Jesus showed us a life of prayer and in this passage he is teaching his followers about it. This is crucial to learn for our personal walk with the Lord.
If you want God to move in your life, or your home, or in our church, it begins and ends with prayer. If you want to be part of something great that God is doing it begins and ends with prayer. If you want to see someone in your life follow Jesus, it begins and ends with prayer. If you want God to set your life right, it begins and ends with prayer. Remember Jesus says that the proper response the Kingdom of God coming is belief and repentance. Prayer is one way we demonstrate belief and repentance. If you want God to move in your life, you have to believe in who he is and what he says, and you have to align your life accordingly. And this gives us plenty to pray about. So whatever it is that you see in your life that needs the hand of God to touch it, turn to him in prayer. If you’re tired of doing life your way because it isn’t working out like you expected, turn to him in prayer. If you want to be part of the great and eternal plan of God and what he is doing in redeeming and restoring his creation, it begins in prayer.
We are going to look at Mark 9:14-29 in two posts today and tomorrow. This story highlights an important aspect of what it means to be followers of Jesus. People will not always, but will inevitably fall below your expectations of them and fail you. So, we shouldn’t let other people’s sinfulness cloud our trust in Jesus’ faithfulness. In other words, because Jesus’ followers fail, it doesn’t mean he fails. The first thing this passage teaches us is that Jesus’ followers eventually and inevitable fail, but he remains faithful.
The failure of Jesus’ followers is evident in the disciples’ inability to heal the young boy. In the previous passage, Jesus was transfigured or transformed before John, James, and Peter. And like Moses coming down from the mountain having been with God in Exodus 34, the people are in awe when they see Jesus approach. The crowd of people has been arguing about something related to healing a man’s son and the disciples’ failure to heal him. Whatever the argument was about, Jesus approaches to see his disciples in an argument with the scribes. Seeing the disciples’ failure, the argument with the scribes, the boy who needs healed, and the exasperated father, Jesus has had enough. He calls them a “faithless generation”. They didn’t understand how God was working in Jesus, nor were they demonstrating faith in Jesus’ authority. His remarks in verse 19 “how long am I to be with you?” and “how long am I to bear with you?” are probably best understood as expressions or figures of speech. Something similar to saying “AH, you’re killing me!” or “You are driving me crazy!” Jesus is at a point of frustration with his disciples, the scribes, and the crowds because they simply don’t understand either who he is or what he has come to do, or both.
But even with such frustration and the failure of his disciples, Jesus doesn’t abandon his work. He says at the end of verse 19, “bring him to me”, referring to boy who needed help. Jesus’ work wasn’t dependent on his disciples’ ability to move the ministry forward. In another place, we read Jesus saying “I will build my church”. On that day, and even in our day, God has a great plan that he is working. His desire is for us to join him in it and see the great and mighty things that he is doing. But if we fail to act in faith or if we fail to understand how he is working, it will not thwart his plan. God is calling us to join him in knowing and practicing the Gospel, but if we fail to follow him, the harm is brought to us, not to him or his plan. God is calling us as individuals and as a church to bring the Gospel to our community. His plan will be accomplished with or without us. We need to align our lives with his will through repentance, and follow him in faith and we will see what he might accomplish through our lives and the church. Jesus was going to bring healing to this boy, but he desired to do it through his disciples. When they failed to heal him because of their lack of faith, Jesus still brought healing to the boy.
After the disciple’s failure, the next thing we see in this passage is this father’s wavering faith. This father believed that Jesus had the authority to heal his son, so he brought him to the disciples. But because of their failure to heal him, his faith was weakened, it became an insecure faith. After the disciples’ failure, the man is hesitant to trust in Jesus’ ability to help him. He says in verse 22, “if you can do anything have compassion on us and help us.” This man didn’t see Jesus feed the 5000 or walk on the water, but his disciples’ did. Jesus had demonstrated his compassion in many, many ways and he has helped countless people. But this man didn’t see any of those things, all he saw was Jesus’ disciples fail to heal his son. So Jesus calls this man to a deeper faith. Jesus says, “’If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes!” Jesus calls this man to genuine and deep faith in spite of the disciples’ failure to demonstrate that faith.
If you have seen a Christian demonstrate a lack of faith, it may have damaged your faith. We know that no one is perfect in our heads, but when others fail us, or fail to live up to the expectations we’ve placed upon them, it can damage our understanding of who God is or his love for us. We are still offended or shaken with we people fail us. There seems to be news stories all the time about a pastor that has embezzled money, or been unfaithful to his wife, or as recent as this week a pastor of a 30,000 member church was arrested and charged for allegedly hitting and choking his daughter. People see these things and it stokes the natural desire of their consciences and they are used as excuses to reject Jesus. But Jesus didn’t call this man to put his faith in his followers, nor does he call us to do that today. When a religious figure in your life fails or falls it can be tragic, but part of what causes people to lose faith is that they’ve spent more time and effort to follow that person than following Jesus. The church provides us with a context where we can have people who lead us in the faith, and who demonstrate life in Christ, but we have to understand that our faith was never supposed to rest in the ability of Jesus’ disciples, but in Jesus himself. Jesus’ followers will eventually and inevitably fail you, but Jesus will never fail you. We aren’t just imperfect, we are sinful. So we should strive to be examples to one another in faith and godliness, but more than this we should encourage one another to continually look to Jesus so that our faith will not waver because of another person’s sin.
In this story, this man had hoped the disciples could heal his son, and when they failed, his faith was shaken. So, Jesus calls this man to a deeper faith. And Jesus called him and he calls us today: to fully place our faith in him. And the man responds to the call by proclaiming “I believe, help my unbelief!” This is a prayer that I have prayed many times. It is the cry of a heart that wants to follow the Lord, but there is doubt, or problems, or circumstances that seem to be working against every attempt to follow. We know Jesus won’t fail us, but we are afraid to find out.
Look how Jesus responds in verses 25-27. He casts the demon out of the boy, who is killed in the process of the exorcism. Remember the story of Jairus’ daughter? They thought she was dead too. This passage uses the exact same wording as 5:41. Jesus takes him by the and, lifting him up, and the boy came back to life. You may have many things that are holding you back from believing. You may have questions about why things have happened the way they have in your life. You may wonder what will happen if you decide to follow Jesus, and what that might mean for your life. You may only half-believe and you know in your heart that if you followed Jesus whole-heartedly it might wreck your life, but you also know it would wreck it in a good way. Today you need to cry out like this man did saying, “I believe, help my unbelief”. Jesus will call you to a deeper place. He will call you to a deeper faith. Don’t be afraid to follow him there.
Let’s read Mark 9:2-13.
There is great significance to Jesus going to a mountain. This is part of what it means when he says the Time is fulfilled and God’s Kingdom has come. In Exodus 33 God meets with Moses on Mount Sinai. Moses asks to see his face, but he refuses because it would have killed Moses. Instead, God speaks to him out of a cloud. He allowed his glory to pass by Moses while he hid him and even though Moses only saw the remnant of God’s glory, his face shined brilliantly so the people were amazed by it.
In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah is hidden in a cave on the same mountain Moses stood on and God passes by him. There was wind, then an earthquake, then fire, but the Lord was not in any of those. Then, there was a quiet whisper, and this was the voice of the Lord. Elijah was the prophet that was taken up into heaven in whirlwind with Chariots of Fire later in 2 Kings 2.
Mark paints this picture for us centuries later: there’s a mountain, a voice out of the cloud, and Moses and Elijah are even there. If you take the time to read those stories you will see that both Moses and Elijah were hidden so that they wouldn’t see God’s face. Moses was hidden in the cleft of a rock, and Elijah was hidden in a cave. But when Jesus takes his disciples up on the Mountain, he doesn’t hide. Instead, he is transfigured. There’s a metamorphosis. A transformation. Verse 3 describes this other-worldliness about Jesus’ clothes because they are so bright white. And Elijah and Moses are with him and they are talking to each other. The presence of Elijah and Moses in verse 4 points the disciples and those who read this story to the Messianic age where God dwells with his people. Both Moses and Elijah met with God on Mount Sinai and now Jesus meets with them on a Mountain.
This scene is meant to portray the place of Jesus in the plan of God, fulfilling a dual role of Moses and Elijah as the long-awaited Messiah. This story unites two expectations which were alive in 1st century Judaism: the coming of the end-time prophet which is like Moses and the appearing of Elijah at the dawning of the end-times. Malachi 4:4-5 says that Elijah would return before the Day of the Lord, when God will appear and make everything right and he includes Moses in the context of this prophecy. It was passages like this that fueled the Messianic expectations of the Jewish people in the time surrounding when Jesus lived on earth. They expected a great teacher like Moses and a great prophet like Elijah in the form of a military leader like David. The disciples see Jesus standing there with Elijah and Moses and they realize that their assessment of Jesus as the Messiah was correct. But, rather than teaching about the role that Elijah and Moses would play in God’s judgment on the nations, God’s deliverance and restoration of Israel, and God’s ruling over his people himself, this is a picture of the roles of Moses and Elijah being fulfilled in Jesus.
Some of the literature that is found from the in-between period of the Old Testament and New Testament fueled these Messianic expectations, but they never foresaw anyone like Jesus coming. God wasn’t going to send Moses or Elijah, he was going to send someone with a much higher authority. He was going to send his Son.
This is another way of displaying that in Jesus, the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come. HE is like Moses and Elijah but greater, he is God’s son. This is the point of this passage. All of the prophetic and cultural expectations of the Messiah, and the roles of Moses and Elijah in God’s final act in history are summed up in Jesus. This scene is another way that Jesus depicts the Time being fulfilled and God’s Kingdom coming.
In verses 5-6, Peter is so scared he starts talking and suggests that places of worship be built to honor Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Peter is so terrified, he has to do something so he suggests constructing some tent or building for worship. Verse 7 seems to interrupt Peter’s babbling. A cloud envelopes the mountain just like in the times of Moses and Elijah and a voice booms from it. “This is my beloved son, listen to him.” The disciples can stop waiting for a Messiah like Moses and Elijah, because the Son has come. This is an echo back to his baptism and a mark of the change in Jesus’ ministry. The Father speaks about his son when Jesus begins his ministry and now the Father speaks about his son as he goes to the end of his ministry. Verse 8 says this whole experience ended abruptly. Then just like that, everything went back to normal.
You can imagine the questions going through the three disciples’ heads: What was that all about?! But before they can ask him, and before he explains it, Jesus says, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until the son of man rises from the dead”. Just as Jesus has told them to be quiet about saying he is the Christ, he tells them to be quiet here. If they told even the remaining 9 disciples or anyone else, it would no doubt fuel the misdirected misunderstanding of Messiah that were popular in their day. Remember that Jesus had said in verse 1 that some would see the Kingdom of God come in power, well, before the resurrection, James, John, and Peter have had a glimpse of it. But Jesus says, not to say anything about it until everyone gets a chance to see it when he is resurrected.
It’s Jesus’ death and resurrection that will calibrate the disciples understanding of Messiah, and Jesus tells them to wait until then. He refers to himself as “Son of Man” in 8:31 and also here in 9:1. This was a title from Daniel 7 which speaks to God’s vindication of his people through a coming ruler. Jesus had referred to himself in this manner before, but now the disciples have a new understanding of who the Son of Man is. After Jesus tells them to be quiet about what they have seen until he rises from the dead, in verse 10 the three disciples begin to ask one another questions about what Jesus might have meant when he referred to rising from the dead. The disciples still haven’t realized all that was going to take place.
They do know that they have just seen Elijah though, and that meant that Malachi’s words were coming true before their eyes. They were about to witness the “Great and awesome day of the Lord”. They were having trouble putting all of these pieces together, so they ask Jesus about Elijah’s coming in verse 11. Jesus’ explanation is not what they would have expected in verses 12-13. He says Elijah has come and the Elijah that was on the mountain is not the one to which he is referring. John the Baptist has already come fulfilling the Role of Elijah. He worked to restore all things through preaching a message of repentance calling the people of Israel to rightly align their lives. But the puppet king, Herod, had him arrested and later on killed. Jesus says, that this “Elijah” preceded him in ministry and in death, preparing the way. Elijah was the herald of not only the Lord’s coming, but his execution. Jesus again is teaching his disciples that the Kingdom coming has nothing to do with rebellion or military action. But it has everything to do with suffering and dying, and then finally rising. And Jesus will accomplish exactly that. He will be rejected, he will suffer, he will die, and then he will rise. This is how the Kingdom of God will come in power. But it is going to take some time before the disciples can understand this.
We are not so different from the first disciples. They were significantly influenced by their cultural understanding of God and the nature of the Messiah. We are naïve if we think we are not. So it requires vigilance and devotion to the word of God to guard against being led astray by false beliefs. If you remember previously in Mark, some thought that Jesus was a reincarnation of John the Baptist or Elijah or another prophet. On the mountain as Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah, the scene would have spoken vividly to the disciples that he was not a reincarnation, but a new and distinct person from them and possessed a greater authority than they ever did or would. Our culture is going to tell us things like all religions are essentially the same. It will tell us that one idea about God is as good as any other. But Jesus spends much of his ministry explaining through teaching and action the difference between the culture’s understanding of God and the truth. His chief lessons are depicted in the cross and in the empty tomb. And he says following him will cause our lives to look very similar in their death to ourselves and our promised resurrection. We all need the Lord to calibrate our theologies. We all need the Holy Spirit to lead us into true and give us grace to understand how his word integrates into our lives.
Jesus shows his disciples a glimpse of the glory he is withholding and it terrifies them. The time will come when they will see him suffer and die and they will again be terrified. But when they see Jesus risen, they are no longer terrified, instead they worship and they understand. Our understanding of who Jesus is and what difference it makes in our lives grows when we worship. When we read, pray, sing, and listen the Holy Spirit works to bring transformation to our hearts and minds. This happens individually and when we meet together, neither to the exclusion of the other. It takes time and we will grow in our understanding of who God is from now into eternity as we pursue the Lord forever. But understanding who God is, begins with believing that what he says is true, and aligning our lives accordingly. Understanding and even worship begins with belief and repentance.
Read Mark 8:34-38.
Wherever Jesus went, crowds gathered to see him perform miracles and to hear him teach, but this time he explains to them, that following him is not a spectator sport. Jesus says if you want to follow me there are two things that need to be done: 1) deny yourself, 2) take up your cross. This is one of the most challenging passages in all of Scripture. This discipleship Jesus calls people to, is not half-hearted or easy. Denying yourself is a refusal to be guided by your own interests and a decision to NOT attempt to control your own destiny. Jesus says, discipleship means you give up control of your life to him and it means that your destiny is not what makes you influential or great in this world, but our destiny is a cross.
Practically speaking, this may not cause all of us to live the same way, but it does call all of us to a radical manner of living. The comfort and prosperity of cultural Christianity in our age must constantly be compared to Jesus’ call for us to deny ourselves and set his sacrificial and humble death on a cross as our prize to attain. We cannot explain away the intensity and the seriousness of this call to discipleship. We’ll continually be tempted to placate this call and find balance or moderation, but this is not a message of moderation.
Most of the 12 disciples followed Jesus to their death literally. There are disciples all over the world who have followed Jesus to their deaths in recent history. Our situation in America may not lead us to martyrdom, but we cannot ease the sting of these words to our lifestyle, our motivations, and our goals. Jesus explains further what this means in a few different ways.
For clarity’s sake in this passage, the words “life” and “soul” are the same word translated two different ways. I don’t know why a translator would do that, but they did, so when you read this passage, reads the word “soul” as “life” because that’s what it says. He describes discipleship, or following Jesus, with three different concepts.
First, discipleship is related to what we lose and gain. We can lose our lives to this world and gain the next, or we can live for this world and lose the next. Secondly, discipleship is related to profit. We can invest ourselves in this world, and our return will be at most, gaining the things of this world. He asks in verse 37, “what can a man give in return for his life?” What can a person invest his or her life in and not lose their investment? The glaring answer that is unspoken is the same Kingdom of God that Jesus is ushering in, and will bring about through his death and resurrection. The third aspect of discipleship is where we place our pride and our identity. In verse 38 jesus tells us we can shrink back from identifying with him and his message or we can follow him. There are two roads before us. One leads to merely the potential for prosperity and success and comfort in this life but being rejected by the King in the next. In choosing the other road, you may lose prosperity or success, but you gain the Kingdom of God. Whichever road we choose, we experience hardship and injustice in this life. But by refusing to pursue the “ideal life” here, and instead pursue the Ideal Savior, we’ll have a constant companion in this life and a promise for the life to come. And if in God’s grace you do experience physical prosperity in this life, you will understand it’s temporary nature and you won’t place your how in those things, but your hope will remain in the Messiah. Jesus says in verse 38 that he will come in the Glory of the Father and with the Angels. The day will come when he will set everything right, but he calls us to begin to set our hearts and lives right today. Jesus’ call to discipleship in this passage is a description of what he means when he says the proper response to his message is belief and repentance.
This is what repentance looks like. It looks like denying ourselves and pursuing the life of the cross.
Lest we think this isn’t practical and applicable, let’s think about it. Are you denying yourself in your marriage or pursuing your own pleasure and your own rights? Are you denying yourself at work, at home, in your friendships, in your neighborhood? This may look different in each of our circumstances, but the Gospel is more practical than we like to admit. It’s easier to give 3 steps to a healthy marriage, or 5 ways to raise kids, or 2 ways to be successful at work. But Jesus says deny yourself and pursue the life of the cross.
Do you believe Jesus is the Messiah who came to die and will one day return to set everything right? If you do, then repentance is mandatory for we who call ourselves disciples, Jesus followers, or Christians. And that repentance looks like dying on a cross in every circumstance, decision, motivation, attitude, and relationship in our lives.
This is immensely difficult, but this is the life he’s leading us to, and when we believe and repent, it leads us to a life better than we can conceive in our minds. It leads us to heaven.
The disciples are cast in the light of continually misunderstanding and misinterpreting what Jesus has been doing and teaching. But Jesus continues with them, not abandoning them, rather he teaches them and leads them. At this point in Mark’s Gospel, they have travelled to the Northern Region of Israel to proclaim the Gospel there.
Read Mark 8:27-30.
As they walked along the road, Jesus raises a question for his disciples. Several times so far in the book of Mark, we have heard the question “who is this?” asked. Having heard Jesus teach, or seeing him perform a miracle, people ask one another “who is this?” Who is Jesus? Finally, he comes out with it and asks his disciples about what people say. Wherever Jesus goes, his reputation has precedes him. Nearly everyone in Palestine has heard of him at this point. The disciples respond by saying that people believe he is someone like John the Baptist or Elijah. Others equate him with the great prophets. He is not just a prophet, but one of the prophets. People recognize Jesus is different from the other religious teachers and prophets that they have heard about because he has greater authority to perform miracles, to heal, and to cast out demons. Jesus brings the question close to home though, and asks his disciples, “who do you say I am?”
In verse 29, Peter speaks up, presumably as the representative of them all, and says, “You are the Christ”, “You are the Messiah”. They finally recognize that when Jesus has said the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come, that he was referring to his own identity as the one who would fulfill promise and demonstrate God’s authority on earth as King. As Jesus has healed people and cast out demons we have heard him tell them over and over to be quiet and not say anything. He even does it here with his disciples. They finally have a moment of clarity where they understand who Jesus is, and he says, be quiet about it.
Why does he do this?
Well, just because they understand Jesus to be the Messiah doesn’t mean they understand who the Messiah is. Just because you understand who Jesus is, doesn’t mean you know him. People have all kids of beliefs about God, but that doesn’t mean they know him, that doesn’t mean they walk with him or worship him. As I have mentioned before, there were lots of messianic notions and would-be Messiahs in the generations surrounding the time of Jesus (A great read on this is N.T. Wright’s book, “Simply Jesus“). However, there is nothing in the historical record, outside of the Bible, where anyone interprets who the Messiah would be the way Jesus does. Most conceptions of the Messiah involved political and military influence. Many if not most people thought the Messiah would be the King who would come like David, and overthrow the oppressive regime through military might.
Our day is no different. People have all kinds of beliefs about who Jesus is. These beliefs are affected by desires, politics, economics, suffering, oppression, health, and many other factors. We cannot control how our circumstances force our minds and hearts to interpret things. But, we can seek to align our beliefs with what Jesus says about himself, and what his earliest followers say about him. Beliefs we form about Jesus outside of the Scriptures have only our minds and circumstances as a foundation. Yet, with the Bible as a foundation for forming our beliefs, we have a fixed point of truth whereby our belief systems, though they vary greatly, may grow in their proper response to Jesus.
Jesus tells his disciples to be quiet about him being the Messiah because he had no intention of rousing a rebellion or raising an army. But, he certainly could have. Remember he had fed huge crowds of people – 5000 at one point and 4000 at another. Jesus could have raised an army of several thousand people had that been his intention. But it was not. So the disciples finally grasp who Jesus is, but they still only grasp it in part.
It will take time before they fully understand who Jesus is, but as they follow him they will grow in understanding. All of our theologies will be corrected in eternity, but as we follow Jesus, we will grow in our understanding of who he is. Our belief will be clarified and developed. But the disciples understood some basics. Jesus is the Messiah. How it affects our particular circumstances may change, but that fact remains. This is where belief and repentance join together properly. As we follow Jesus it will bring us to points of time where repentance is required. As we believe more adequately and our understanding of Jesus grows, so will our practice of repentance align our lives closer to him as we follow him. This in turn affects our hearts and our actions, our mind and our relationships. This is the road to restoration that will find it’s destination at the resurrection.
Knowing who Jesus is and knowing Jesus are two different things. The former requires historical and biblical knowledge, the latter requires belief and repentance. Knowing Jesus means following him.